When it comes to printing photos, you have two options. You can either print them yourself or use an external printing service. Both of these options have their advantages and disadvantages.
In this guide, we will have a look at the various pros and cons of printing photos by yourself using an inkjet printer versus external photo printing services. It will help you decide which of these is a better option. We will consider all the factors that will help you make the right choice.
You have two types of color printer options to print pictures. They are inkjet and laser printers. For photo printing, photographers prefer quality inkjet printers due to their better color reproduction capability.
Number of Prints
The first factor that you must consider is the number of photos you plan to print. If this number is very low, you don’t need to invest in a printer. It will not be a cost-effective solution. It is better to use the service of an external photo printing agency in such a case. If you plan to print lots of images, it is better to invest in a good-quality photo printer.
Size of Prints
The photo print size is another major factor to consider. If you plan to go with a single print size for all your photos, your home printer will be sufficient. But, when you go for large-size prints, you need to invest more in the printer.
Also, if you plan to print pictures in different sizes, one printer may not be enough. You need to have different printers when you go for multiple print sizes such as wallet and poster. When you try to do this at home, you need to spend more. It will not be a cost-effective solution.
Frequency of Printing
Another factor to consider is the printing frequency. So, how often do you want to make photography prints? If you plan to do prints 3 or 4 times a year, investing in a high-quality photo printer will not be a good solution. When you buy such printers, you need to do prints regularly, at least a couple of times a month. If you don’t do this, it may result in the drying of printer inks. It may also affect the functioning of the printer. You may end up repairing and changing printer inks often. Inkjet printers are also known for the ink clogging issue when the printers are not used for a long time. Thus, you may end up spending more money.
Printer Calibration and Maintenance
As a photographer, you are calibrating your monitor for editing of your images. Similarly, you need to calibrate your printer. It is essential for the perfect alignment of the photo print heads and the cartridges. It helps to calibrate the colors and make sure there are no issues with prints coming out offset. Only then you will be able to get good-quality prints. If you own a printer, you need to do the calibration process at regular intervals. If you have photos printed by a service, you don’t have to worry about the calibration process. If you are really interested in investing in a printer for printing your images, you must be ready to do the various maintenance activities too. Also, the printer, its supplies, and the accessories are going to consume some space at your home.
The cost of printing is an important deciding factor. So, we will do a comparison between the cost of printing at home versus online/ offline photo printing services.
You can get different size prints when you go for an external printing service. For this cost comparison purpose, we will stick to one particular size. Lets make it one of the standard photo sizes, 5×7 inches. Some of the popular photo printing services like Walmart, Shutterfly, Snapfish, and Amazon charge around $0.12 on average for a 5×7 inch photo print.
Now, we will find the average cost of printing a 5×7 inch picture at home. When you do a photo printing setup at your place, you need to invest in a good quality photo printer, photo papers, and printer inks. When you invest in a photo printer, you must also consider the cost of various other supplies too.
It includes the cost of the inks and photo paper. You will get a set of ink cartridges when you buy a printer. But, once it is finished, you need to buy another set. When you do prints regularly, you will have to buy ink cartridges very often. This ink replacement can become a costly affair if you do not consider it initially. Before buying a printer, you need to check the cost of the replacement ink cartridges also. Choose the printer in such a way that these cartridges come at a budget friendly price. Some ink cartridges, especially in fancier printers and in laser printers, can cost hundreds of dollars, and dont forget you need to have multiple cartridges if its a multi color printer.
There are many high-quality photo printers out there. For comparison purposes, we will pick one printer among them. Lets pick the Canon G3260 photo printer. It will cost you around $215. It is a budget friendly photo printer. This printer is capable of printing around 7000 pictures per full ink set. This printer is capable of printing pictures as small as 3.5 x 3.5 inches all the way to A4 size images. Thus, it offers a good size range. If you want to purchase a full set of replacement inks, it will cost you around $50. So, the cost of ink per sheet will be roughly $0.01. A set of fifty 5×7 inch photo paper sheets will cost around $7. Thus, the cost per paper will be $0.14. Therefore, the cost of printing a 5×7 inch image at your place will be around $0.15, without considering the printer cost. If you use this printer for printing around 2000 images, the overall cost of a 5×7 inch photo print will be $0.25 ($0.15 + $0.1).
Thus, printing at your place is slightly more expensive when you compare it with standard printing services. External photo printing services can give you prints at a lower price since they buy the printing materials in bulk for a lower price.
If your interest is to print large-size prints at home, this printer will not be sufficient. You will have to invest in a wide-format photo printer. It will cost you around 4 times the price of this printer. Thus, your print cost will also be more.
The maximum quality of photo prints varies for different printers. When you print at home, you are left with only one option that is supported by your printer. But when you use the service of an external printing service, you have multiple choices. So, if you want to take prints at very high resolution, printing photos from an external printing lab will be a better option.
Photo Paper Options
When you use a printer at home, you will be investing in only one or two types of photo paper. It will be mostly gloss and matte photo paper. This is because you need to buy these photo papers in sets of 50 or 100 or even 200. You will not need this many papers unless you do a lot of printing. Also, it is going to cost you more if you go for different varieties of photo paper.
When it comes to an external print house, they have many varieties of photo papers, thicknesses, textures, etc. It includes gloss, matte, luster, satin, canvas, etc. You can get your prints in any of these papers. So, the photo paper options are better in the case of an external printing agency. Also, you will get multiple size options.
Speed and Control
One main advantage of printing at home is it gives you more control and speed over the printing process. When you depend on an external printing agency for printing pictures, it will definitely take some time. But, when you own a printer, you can make prints as and whenever required. If you are not happy with the print, you can discard it and go for a new one, without waiting for it to arrive. You can also get different types of photo paper for printing pictures. Also, if you want to try some creative printing, it is always good to have a printer at your place.
There are people who are not comfortable sharing their family pictures with an external lab for printing. I’m sure most of you have seen the movie One Hour Photo with Robin Williams. Such people can definitely consider investing in a good quality inkjet photo printer at home.
When you have a printer at home, it is easy for you to match the print colors with the colors on the monitor if you have the right tools, such as calibration device. Thus, you can get photo prints with colors matching your monitor colors. If you decide to use an external printing lab, especially a regular inexpensive one, the colors will vary for different labs. Thus, there will be a slight color-matching issue between your monitor and the print from the lab. You may end up reprinting your picture and paying more. It has happened to me many times. There are high-end labs that take your color profile and print your pictures accordingly. But, those options tend to be very expensive.
I hope this article has addressed all the things you need to consider when trying to decide between printing at home vs at a printshop. There is not a simple answer to this question, it all depends on your printing requirements and expectations but you can make your own educated decision based on this guide. Please consider reading this article to know about the various benefits of printing pictures.